Brooklyn College students reject “ugly attack campaign” following boycott discussion
Nora Barrows-Friedman, Electronic Intifada, Feb 14 2013
Students at Brooklyn College in New York have issued a press statement rejecting the allegations that Israel-aligned groups and individuals and some media have made against incidents that occured during last week’s discussion on BDS with Omar Barghouti and Judith Butler. During the event, several students were asked to leave by security for disrupting Butler’s speech, but the coverage since the event has been misleading and distorted, according to a report by Alex Kane in Mondoweiss (below – RB). For example, the NY Daily News, Kane wrote, “continues to add fuel to the fire” over the incident, which as the press release from Brooklyn College’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter explains, “was based solely on the fact that they were disturbing guests around them.” Moreover, Dov Hikind, a Brooklyn Assemblyman and former member of the JDL, has filed a request for New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to investigate the removal of the four students who disrupted Butler’s speech. Brooklyn College’s Students for Justice in Palestine’s entire press release is below.
Brooklyn College SJP Rejects Allegations Regarding Last Week’s Event on BDS
Since last Thursday’s discussion at Brooklyn College of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement for Palestinian rights, several complaints and unfounded accusations have been made against the event organizers, Brooklyn College Students for Justice in Palestine. These claims, some of which have attracted media attention and prompted a request for New York’s attorney general to open an investigation, follow an ugly attack campaign that preceded Thursday’s event, waged by local politicians and others who attempted to smear BC-SJP and BDS supporters as anti-Semites and pressure Brooklyn College into cancelling the event. Such efforts to conflate support for equal rights for Palestinians and an end to Israel’s occupation with anti-Semitism are outrageous and deplorable. In response to these latest allegations, BC-SJP reiterates once again that our organization, like the BDS movement as a whole, categorically rejects any and all forms of racial, ethnic or religious prejudice and bigotry, including anti-Semitism, and issues the following clarifications regarding what happened on Thursday:
Problems with Registration and Entry
Due to logistical problems on the part of the organizers, some people who registered for Thursday’s event were reportedly unable to gain access. A small number of individuals have claimed they were denied entry because they were Jewish and/or supporters of Israel. This is patently false. In fact, many Jewish students and opponents of BDS were in attendance, including several who posed questions during the question and answer session. Problems with registration and entry were inadvertent and a result of difficulties organizers had handling the unexpectedly large number of requests from people who wished to attend, which skyrocketed in the days immediately prior to the event as media attention and controversy increased. We apologize to anyone who tried to register in advance but could not get in because of the overwhelming process we as organizers were dealing with. Suggestions that only those with opposing viewpoints were denied entry are unfounded. Many who agreed with the speakers’ views were also unable to get in because their names could not be found in the RSVP list.
Media Unable to Cover Event Inside
Initially, BC-SJP decided not to allow the event to be videotaped by media, at the request of one of the speakers whose remarks were to be published online in The Nation magazine the same day. On the day of the event, when several journalists wished to gain entry because of the widespread media attention and controversy it was attracting, the organizers could not accommodate them because all available places were already taken, with many people on the wait-list, and the administration couldn’t allow any additional guests in the room, which was filled to capacity. Nevertheless, some media were able to attend because they had registered just like everyone else, and they covered the event for outlets like the NYT. Others were encouraged to attend a press conference outside immediately beforehand featuring one of the evening’s speakers, Palestinian human rights activist Omar Barghouti.
Students Asked to Leave for Disrupting Judith Butler’s Speech
During Judith Butler’s speech, four students were removed from the room by security for disturbing others sitting near them. The individuals in question were speaking loudly enough to prompt people sitting around them to ask them to be quiet. They were talking, shuffling papers, and moving noisily around in their seats for several minutes, while Dr Butler was talking, prompting complaints from other attendees sitting nearby. Because the acoustics in the room were poor and Dr Butler was speaking softly, their actions prevented those around them from hearing her well. The decision to remove these individuals was made by organizers after consulting with security, after they failed to comply with requests to be quiet. Their removal was based solely on the fact that they were disturbing guests around them. As with the accusation that some people were denied entry because of their religion or political viewpoint, claims that these four individuals were asked to leave because they were Jewish or opponents of BDS are entirely unfounded. There were many Jewish students and non-students in attendance, with varying viewpoints on the subject, some of whom asked challenging questions during the question and answer period. In organizing and hosting this event, BC-SJP in no way discriminated against individuals because of their religion, ethnicity or political views. Allegations to the contrary ignore the facts that led to their removal. BC-SJP has always opposed all forms of racial, ethnic or religious prejudice and bigotry, including anti-Semitism, in theory and in practice, and will continue to do so. We will also continue our efforts to educate our fellow students and the general public about Israeli abuses of Palestinian human rights, and the complicity of the US in those abuses, despite the efforts of some who wish to intimidate and silence us.
NY Daily News distorts why student Israel advocates were tossed from Brooklyn College event
Alex Kane, MondoWeiss, Feb 12 2013
The NY Daily News continues to add fuel to the fire over the disturbance involving four student activists affiliated with Zionist organizations who were kicked out of the Brooklyn College BDS event last week. The Daily News ran three pieces addressing the matter recently, two of them today: a news story, an Op-Ed today by Ari Ziegler, one of the students who was tossed from the event, and an editorial decrying the fact that the students were tossed out. But their coverage is misleading and does not even make the pretense of trying to get the full story out. The articles push the narrative that was first published by Tablet Magazine: that the students had flyers in their laps and were then picked out by a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) member for no reason other than the fact that they were opponents of BDS. The SJP member, according to the student Israel activists, came up to Melanie Goldberg of the Israel on Campus Coalition and demanded that they hand over the flyers in their laps. When Goldberg and the others refused, the narrative goes, the SJP member got security to toss them out. When Goldberg and her friends asked security why they were being thrown out, security had no answer. The college vice president allegedly said that the SJP members “were calling the shots” because it’s “their event.” The bottom line, according to this narrative: the students affiliated with Hillel were doing nothing wrong. They had flyers in their laps. They were kicked out for no reason. They were not creating a disturbance. In the Daily News’ world, that narrative is now fact. But that narrative has been clearly disputed. As I reported last Friday, organizers of the event and witnesses to the disturbance tell a much different story. Here’s what I wrote:
According to Sarah Aly of BC-SJP, who witnessed the mini-controversy, the students were passing anti-BDS flyers back and forth amongst themselves in the middle of the event, while Judith Butler was talking, contra the claim that they had flyers “in their laps.” They were also talking during the event. When a student volunteer asked them to stop passing the flyers back and forth and to quiet down, the Hillel-affiliated activists refused. That’s when a volunteer asked a security guard to remove them. Two other witnesses who preferred not to have their names published also confirmed this story to me. So yes, these students were removed, and you can debate whether that was the right move or not. But it wasn’t about them getting kicked out because they were “pro-Israel” or had flyers “in their laps.”
I have since spoken to NC-SJP member Carlos Guzman, who told me the same story that Aly did. But it’s not only BC-SJP students that dispute the story from Goldberg and Ziegler. It’s also the Brooklyn College administration, as well as another witness who posted her account on Facebook in response to Goldberg’s narrative. Jeremy Thompson, a spokesman for Brooklyn College, told Algemeiner:
My understanding is that these students were in the room along with the rest of the audience. From the first speaker they began to speak out. They were becoming vocal and disruptive to the members around them, and one of the student organizers of the event went to them and said “You really need to be quiet, you’re disrupting other people around you.” They then did not comply and a couple of police officers asked them to come out into the lobby.
Thompson also told the NY Daily News a similar thing, in an otherwise misleading story by reporter Corrine Lestch. Melanie Goldberg of the Israel on Campus Coalition posted an account on Facebook of what she says happened to her at the event. It is similar to the Ziegler Op-Ed in the NY Daily News. But someone in the comments section named Emma Snyders disputes Goldberg’s story. Snyders is not a member of BC-SJP, according to Guzman. She wrote:
I am a student at Brooklyn College, have been for about two years now. I don’t mind being the odd person out in this conversation by saying that I was directly in front of you and had to ask you to be quiet numerous times before you were asked to leave. While leaving someone you were with yelled “This is a violation of our freedom of speech.” If you had been quiet and respectful of an incredibly amazing and articulate person, such as Judith Butler, you would have had a chance to not only learn that, but ask questions at the end. There was a lot of tension in the room and your behavior made me feel incredibly uncomfortable.
So on one side, you have a witness to the disturbance who was not a member of BC-SJP disputing the account of Goldberg; multiple members of BC-SJP who say a similar thing; and the college administration confirming the accounts of BC-SJP students. And on the other side are the four student activists who are claiming they did nothing wrong and were tossed out because they had anti-BDS flyers in their laps. The NY Daily News is publicizing one side of the story while omitting claims that complicate the story. I did not clearly see the incident, so I can’t definitively say who is right and who is wrong. But it’s the height of journalistic irresponsibility to publicize one narrative while leaving out another side of the story that complicates things greatly. The NY Daily News also reports that CUNY is opening an investigation into the matter. Let’s hope an inquiry clears the matter up once and for all.